HAMMONTON — Thunderstorms started and ended a fire inside Wharton State Forest that burned for five days.

Heavy rain from the thunderstorms that moved across South Jersey Sunday night and early Monday morning helped bring the fire under control and contained, according to Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Bob Considine.

Forest Fire Service investigators determined three trees including a large pine tree were struck by lightning on Wednesday night, setting off the blaze.

The fire continued to spread northeast of Basto Village until it was discovered at 1:20 p.m. on Thursday by an observer on a fire tower. It burned through 3,500 acres, with residents and beachgoers in neighboring southern Ocean County and Atlantic County smelling the smoke.

The DEP said the fire was the largest in the 122,880-acre forest since the Atsion fire of August 2007.

"While the cause of this fire was natural, a vast majority of forest fires are the result of human activity, whether made in error, out of negligence or by deliberate actions. Visitors to state parks and forests are encourage to follow safety protocols when traveling through or camping in or near these fire-prone areas," Considine said.

State Park Police, New Jersey State Police, the Burlington County Fire Marshall and the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety all assisted in the investigation of the fire.

The State Forest Fire Service also credited area volunteer fire departments and Emergency Medical Services of Burlington County for their assistance and helping keep crews hydrated during the fire.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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